“We are infants before each other, are we not, so vulnerable to each other’s words and movements. A school I sat in cured me of hurting others.” — Rabia, the female Sufi poet who inspired Rumi
My interest in Arab cultures started about 15 years ago. It led to my living and teaching in Egypt and Morocco, making two documentaries there, and to my current teaching of Arab film and literature at the University of St. Thomas.
Making cross-cultural documentaries is a way of searching, and it is daunting in its challenges. But I have always learned many important things about the other culture, my own, and myself through this process. My films are an attempt to listen in order to understand. I hope that my films can be used to better understand Arab cultures, to see their diversity so we are less able to stereotype them. It is most challenging when we hear something we don’t want to hear. That’s when our peacemaking skills come into play, as we reflect on the perspective of the “Other.”
My Egyptian and Moroccan friends have taught me other ways of thinking and feeling about daily life, religion and politics. I have met so many Arab women who defy our stereotypes of Arab and Muslim women, by being leaders in their communities, working for economic development or practicing their arts (filmmaking, singing, painting) with originality and gusto. I was proud to see Egyptian women — Muslim and Christian, from all walks of life — participating freely in the Egyptian revolution.
Political repression and instability have been part of the Arab World since colonization, and I learned that developing trust was key in being able to delve into the cultural understanding I was seeking. As someone who has lived in the Arab world, I find the revolutions occurring in the Arab world fascinating. For the first time in recent history, Arab populations are transforming their societies by challenging the political oppression and corruption which has subdued them. They are demanding a voice in their governments and transparency in its processes. Those of us who want peaceful interactions between the U.S. and Arab countries will welcome these indigenous movements and seek to connect with them. We will be seeing many films coming out of these uprisings, just as we have seen the creative use of social media to promote and organize them.
Media can both separate us and unite us. Â I hope my films will contribute in a small way to a deeper understanding between our cultures.
Minnesota filmmaker and theater director Pamela Nice will host a summer peace event entitled “Peace through Filmmaking.” Dr. Nice will speak to some of the revolutions occurring in the Arab world. Participants will examine their understandings of their our own culture, see excerpts from some of Dr. Nice’s documentaries, learn about her process of making films, take part in a group discussion and close with a peace meditation.
The event is from 1:30-3:30 p.m. Saturday June 18,Â at the Center for Harmonious Living, 12201 Minnetonka Blvd., Minnetonka, MN. The cost is $15.
Dr. Nice, recipient of two Fulbright Fellowships, has lived in Morocco and Egypt, and traveled to Turkey and Syria. She has made three documentaries that focus on increasing understanding between Americans and Arabs. Her most recent documentary, Desert in the Coffeehouse, aired on channel TPT this year.
For more information visit Meetup.com/SpiritUnlimited/ or call 612.270.3312. Contact the Center for Harmonious Living at 952.938.1929.